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Archive for the ‘miscellaneous’ Category

Bobby Womack R.I.P.

bobby womack

I listened to him as a kid and teen, in the late ’60s-early ’70s. His best song—and there is likely a consensus on this—was “Across 110th Street”—which got a second life in Quentin Tarantino’s great ‘Jackie Brown’, in one of the greatest ever opening movie scenes (watch here).

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Thip Samai, Bangkok

Thip Samai, Bangkok

I just spent several days in Bangkok, an exceptional city that anyone with the inclination to travel should visit at least once in his/her life. For those who do plan a trip there, here are just a couple of recommendations. First, in terms of food, Bangkok may well be the greatest city in the world, as (a) Thai cuisine is arguably *the* world’s greatest and (b) there is no point in recommending restaurants, as the eating experience on the street—at the countless food carts and hole-in-the-wall open-air restaurants, where the food is prepared in front of you—is such that a comparable eating experience will likely be found nowhere else in this world. Bangkok is a daily eating festival. But let me recommend just one restaurant, which, in the estimation of Bangkok Thais—and this has been confirmed—, makes the best Pad Thai in the city. Pad Thai is its specialty. That’s all the restaurant does. The name and address: Thip Samai, 313 Thanon Mahachai, Samranrat, Phra Nakorn (open from 5PM to late). It’s centrally located—not far from the Wat Phra Keao and Khao San Road—but not in an area that tourists are likely to stay, so one will have to take a taxi (a meter taxi, and insist on the meter; don’t bother with tuk-tuks, which are a rip-off; cut-and-paste and hand the taxi driver this: 313 ถ.มหาไชย สำราษราษฎร์ พระนคร กทม). When I arrived at the restaurant last Saturday around 9:30PM, I had to wait in line for almost half an hour to get a table. And I was the only non-Thai, signifying that (a) locals really like it, meaning that it’s definitely a good restaurant and (b) it has, for some curious reason, not made it into the guide books. Fortunately the menu was translated into English. So was it worth it? Yes. Absolutely. Here’s a video (it’s exactly like this).

While I’m at it, I also recommend the riverside restaurants at the Tha Phra Chan pier, just north of the Wat Phra Keao (otherwise, take the ferry from Wang Lang, the nº10 stop on the Chao Phraya river express).

And I will give some free publicity to my hotel, the New Siam Guest House II, which is ideally situated and can’t be beat in terms of value for money.

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My namesake

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I won’t be posting much over the next couple of weeks—and likely not at all on politics or current events—and I am far away from the banks of the Marne and not following the news comme d’habitude or spending too much time on the Internet. I am presently in the city in which this edifice—that carries my name—is a landmark (the pic is not mine, though I’ve taken a few of my own). As my readers are cosmopolitan and well-traveled in their great majority, most will immediately know where I am ;-)

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I came across this excellent, must read piece on FB yesterday from the blog of King’s College London political economy professor Alexandre Afonso, in which he discusses and documents how the academic profession—in the US and Europe (and to which one may add US academic institutions in Europe)—is increasingly coming to resemble a drug gang in its structure. Money quote:

So what you have is an increasing number of brilliant PhD graduates arriving every year into the market hoping to secure a permanent position as a professor and enjoying freedom and high salaries, a bit like the rank-and-file drug dealer hoping to become a drug lord. To achieve that, they are ready to forego the income and security that they could have in other areas of employment by accepting insecure working conditions in the hope of securing jobs that are not expanding at the same rate.

The trend is structural, increasingly linked to the insider-outsider, winner-take-all evolution of advanced capitalist societies. Which does not mean, however, that it is a fatality and there’s nothing to be done. Unionization is one response, and which is becoming a trend in American higher education (stateside friends of mine who work with the unions and bemoan their decline may look in this direction for promising growth potential).

In addition to Afonso’s blog post, one may read anthropologist Sarah Kendzior’s AJE tribune from last year on “The closing of American academia,” in which she examines how “the plight of adjunct professors highlights the end of higher education as a means to prosperity.” When undergraduate students speak to me about applying to doctoral programs, I advise them not to consider going for a Ph.D. unless they are fully funded (and with generous living stipend) and get into a top school. If not, forget it. Bad investment.

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On nationalism

I think about nationalism a lot. I hate nationalism. Nationalism—called “patriotism” in America—is a scourge of the modern era. As for nationalists—whatever their nationality—, discussion with them is futile, when not impossible. On the perversity of nationalism, I particularly like this passage by Erich Fromm, from his book The Sane Society (New York: Rinehart & Company, 1955), pp. 57-60.

[W]e find, in the European development, the persistence of…the fixation to blood and soil. Man—freed from the traditional bonds of the medieval community, afraid of the new freedom which transformed him into an isolated atom—escaped into a new idolatry of blood and soil, of which nationalism and racism are the two most evident expressions. (…)

(…) Nationalism, originally a progressive movement, replaced the bonds of feudalism and absolutism. The average man today obtains his sense of identity from his belonging to a nation, rather from his being a “son of man.” His objectivity, that is, his reason is warped by this fixation. He judges the “stranger” with different criteria than the members of his own clan. His feelings toward the stranger are equally warped. Those who are not “familiar” by bonds of blood and soil (expressed by common language, customs, food, songs, etc.) are looked upon with suspicion, and paranoid delusions about them can spring up at the slightest provocation. The incestuous fixation not only poisons the relationship of the individual to the stranger, but to the members of his own clan and to himself. The person who has not freed himself from the ties to blood and soil is not yet fully born as a human being; his capacity for love and reason are crippled; he does not experience himself nor his fellow man in their—and his own—human reality.

Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. “Patriotism” is its cult. It should hardly be necessary to say, that by “patriotism” I mean that attitude which puts the own nation above humanity, above the principles of truth and justice; not the loving interest in one’s own nation, which is the concern with the nation’s spiritual as much as with its material welfare—never with its power over other nations. Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one’s country which is not part of love for one’s humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.

The idolatrous character of national feeling can be seen in the reaction to the violations of clan symbols, a reaction which is very different from that to the violation of religious or moral symbols. Let us picture a man who takes the flag of his country to a street of one of the cities of the Western world, and tramples on it in view of other people. He would be lucky not to be lynched. Almost everybody would feel a sense of furious indignation, which hardly permits of any objective thought. The man who desecrated the flag would have done something unspeakable; he would have committed a crime which is not one crime among others, but the crime, the one unforgivable and unpardonable. Not quite as drastic, but nevertheless qualitatively the same would be the reaction to a man who says, “I do not love my country,” or, in the case of war, “I do not care for my country’s victory.” Such a sentence is a real sacrilege, and a man saying it becomes a monster, an outlaw in the feelings of his fellow men.

(…) Even if a man should speak disparagingly of God, he would hardly arouse the same feeling of indignation as against the crime, against the sacrilege which is the violation of the symbols of the country. (…)

After the great European Revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries failed to transform “freedom from” into “freedom to,” nationalism and state worship became the symptoms of a regression to incestuous fixation. Only when man succeeds in developing his reason further than he has done so far, only when he can build a world based on human solidarity and justice, only when he can feel rooted in the experience of universal brotherliness, will he have transformed his world into a truly human home.

Brilliant. I have the passage in French translation as well, which I’ll put up at some point.

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Taking it easy

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I’m presently on vacation here, on the lower right side of the photo (which should be instantly recognizable to those who know their geography), so won’t be posting much over the next couple of weeks, even though there are a number of issues I need to write about (e.g. the headline story in Monday’s Le Monde, on the idiotic, asinine proposal by an organism of the French state to ban the wearing of Islamic headscarfs in universities). Later this month, inshallah.

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Multicultural wordle

I want to give some publicity to this fine new blog on the public square, the tagline of which is ‘Working site on citizenship and multiculturalism issues’. The blog’s animateur is Andrew Griffith, who, in addition to being a personal friend, is a former Canadian civil servant and diplomat, and, most recently in his career, the Director General of the Citizenship and Multiculturalism Branch, Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Andrew has worked on these issues for many years and has a book coming out this fall on the subject, and that I will certainly write about.

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Why do I teach?

Nice commentary by Gary Gutting, philosophy professor at Notre Dame, on the NYT opinion page.

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racial-tolerance-map-hk-fix

This is the title of a great post by freelance journalist Siddhartha Mitter on a fine blog I just discovered the other day, “Africa Is a Country.” Mitter’s post is a demolition of an absurd piece last week on The Washington Post website, “A fascinating map of the world’s most and least racially tolerant countries,” by WaPo foreign affairs blogger Max Fisher, which uncritically reported on a paper by two Swedish economists, itself based on something called the World Values Survey. I took one look at the map and pronounced it bullshit—on FB and using that precise term—, asserting that any “study” that ranked France as less racially tolerant than Russia—however one wants to define “race,” a term devoid of scientific value—had serious methodological problems, and that France, despite well-known problems of discrimination, was one of the most tolerant societies in Europe. Then I saw Mitter’s post, which used precisely my language, though explained in detail—and with greater sophistication than I would be capable of—why Max Fisher’s piece was full of B.S. Read Fisher’s piece here and then Mitter’s takedown here.

BTW, I was somewhat dismayed at the number of FB friends who uncritically posted the WaPo piece, including some who should have known better. And it uncritically made the rounds in France as well. Even my 19 year-old daughter repeated it to me today. I told her not to believe everything she reads on the Internet.

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Aristide Zolberg R.I.P.

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[update below]

It is with sadness that I learned of the death yesterday of Aristide Zolberg, emeritus professor of political science at the New School. He was my professor and mentor during my first two years of graduate school at the University of Chicago, until he took up his appointment at the New School in 1983. He was a brilliant social scientist and whose presence at Chicago was one of the reasons I chose to pursue my graduate studies there. I was greatly influenced by his macrohistorical approach to comparative politics and shared his main academic interests, in European—and particularly French—politics and history, in ethnicity and ethnic conflict, and in the field of immigration (history, sociology, politics, and policy) and international migration, of which he was one of the leading social science authorities from the 1970s on. We stayed in touch over the years and saw one another off and on, in New York and during his many visits to Paris. We were very much on the same wavelength intellectually and politically. And I liked him personally. Here’s the announcement of his passing on the New School’s website

New School professor Aristide R. Zolberg, one of the world’s leading voices on the politics, history, and ethics of immigration, has died at the age of 81. Zolberg served as Walter A. Eberstadt Professor of Politics and University in Exile Professor Emeritus at The New School for Social Research. A distinguished political scientist and a preeminent scholar of comparative politics, the history of international migration, nationalism and ethnicity, and immigration policy in North America and Western Europe, he served for many years as the founding director of the International Center for Migration, Ethnicity and Citizenship at The New School.

Early in life, Zolberg experienced first-hand the perils of war, ethnic hatred, displacement, and exile. A Polish Jew, Ary was born shortly before the Nazis rose to power, and survived World War II under an assumed Catholic identity in Belgium. After the war he became a refugee in the United States, and earned his doctorate in political science at the University of Chicago.

Zolberg mentored and inspired several generations of colleagues and students at The New School, where he was first appointed as Distinguished Professor of Political Science in 1983, as well as at the University of Chicago and many other institutions where he held academic appointments. Zolberg’s book, A Nation by Design, remains one of the most authoritative accounts of immigration history in the United States and a compelling story of how immigration shaped this country. His humanity and erudition will be missed by countless colleagues, students, and readers.

Yes, he will be missed. There are few political scientists like Ari Zolberg left (in America at least), who have his erudition and intellectual and academic interests and range. Nowadays if one is not a mathematician, or prepared to become one, there’s no point pursing a doctorate in political science.

UPDATE: The website Deliberately Considered has tributes to Ari Zolberg by Jeffrey Goldfarb, Kenneth Prewitt, Michael Cohen, and Riva Kastoryano. (April 26)

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Mimi

Today is the 2nd anniversary of my blog. To mark the occasion I offer my first—and no doubt last—cute cat post. All blogs, even the most serious, are allowed at least one cute cat post. The cat here is our Mimi, who, as it happens, had her 10th birthday two weeks ago (I was originally going to post this then, as an alternative to marking the 10th anniversary of the launching of the Iraq war). Here are some photos of Mimi shortly after she came into our family (when she was seven weeks old).

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With her papa.

With her papa.

She’s the nicest, gentlest cat I’ve ever had. Has never scratched in anger.

With her grande sœur.

With her grande sœur (then age nine).

Playing with her "petit frère"

Playing with her “petit frère

We gave our daugther a big cat peluche (stuffed animal) a couple of years before Mimi arrived. Mimi immediately started to play with it, so we dubbed it her petit frère. She drags it around the apartment in the clutches of her jaw, depositing it on our bed, the couch, my desk chair, anywhere (though only when she’s alone in the apartment or thinks she is).

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Mimi at age ten, with her petit frère.

Mimi at age ten, with her petit frère.

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Mimi developed a bit of a weight problem when she was around two years old. As we live on the second floor up we couldn’t let her outside when she was in heat, so she never had kittens. During the third heat we had her spayed but at the wrong moment hormone-wise. So her excess girth got locked in. Nothing to be done about it. But we love her all the same.

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My car R.I.P.

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My beloved 1986 Volvo 360 GL. La vieille dame. Today it died. Not literally: it started fine and could be driven no problem. But I had it towed to the casse (auto graveyard). There was no choice. Tomorrow was the deadline for the contrôle technique (inspection), the missing of which means cancellation of the carte grise (vehicle registration card), fines and fees into the hundreds of €, and all sorts of hassles and problems one does not need. My mechanic told me after the last inspection (two years ago) that the inspector decided to be nice and let it pass but that the next time major repairs would be demanded. And then last year I was informed that the joint de culasse (head gasket) had blown, meaning that I could drive locally but not outside the Île-de-France (no wonder the engine had been leaking coolant for the previous year…). Replacing the head gasket would have been more expensive than the market value of the car, not to mention all the other repairs to be mandated by the inspector. And don’t even mention body work (or all the other stuff that can suddenly go wrong in an old car). So I had set March 2013 as the deadline to replace the Volvo. As it had negative market value at this point, I couldn’t even give it away. So the casse was the only solution.

This is a sad day for me, as this was my car for the past 19 years. That’s a hefty chunk of my life (precisely one-third). And before it was mine, it was my father’s, who bought it new in November 1985. When he passed it on to me in 1994 it had 95,000 km on the odometer. Today it had just under 165,000 (that’s kilometers, not miles). Not much for a 27-year old car. As we live in an inner banlieue of Paris—and before that, in Paris itself—, use public transportation to go to work, and have food and most essential shopping withiin walking distance, the car was not taken out much. In recent years, once or twice a week on average (also, my wife doesn’t drive). And a significant portion of the 70K km I put on the odometer over the past 19 years was trips and vacations around France and neighboring countries (of which we took many when my daughter was younger). But one still needs a car and I had started thinking eight or nine years ago about getting a new one (or, rather, a more recent used model). But a reportage on France 2′s Envoyé Spécial (French ’60 Minutes’) several years ago made me decide to hold on to the Volvo for as long as possible. The reportage was on the repair costs of recent model cars with everything electronic and loaded with computer chips. One of the stories had a woman with her Renault or something and where the speedometer and odometer ceased to function. As her independent mechanic couldn’t deal with the new electronic stuff she had to go to the concessionaire (dealer)—already more expensive—to get it fixed. She was told the entire dashboard would have to be replaced. Cost: €800 (plus labor). I took note of this, as the very same thing had happened to my car a short time earlier. I took it to my mechanic (no dealer). The repair involved finding the wire from the dashboard and reattaching it in the right place. Cost: €57. That was it. I was keeping the Volvo until something major broke. And besides, Volvos are good cars! Properly maintained, they can go on for years.

But it was a gas guzzler, was rusting, the fenders starting to come loose, the rear right door not opening properly, et j’en passe. My daughter had also been increasingly embarrassed by it in recent years—her friends’ parents all have nice new model cars—and, I have to admit, I was slightly gêné myself parking in the lot at the last couple of weddings we attended (looking like the poor cousin from the sticks). So voilà, la vieille dame n’est plus. As soon as my leg is back to normal I’ll start looking for a new-used one (as given the frequency with which I drive, I cannot justify buying a new car). Donc si quelqu’un dans la région parisienne à une voiture d’occasion à vendre—fabrication allemande ou japonaise de préférence (mais pas française)—et pour à peu près €5000, faites-moi signe.

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From our kitchen window.

From our kitchen window.

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Blogroll

I finally have a blogroll up on the sidebar, with links to blogs I look at periodically to regularly and/or endorse. I’ll be adding to it as I go along.

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StudyAbroad_Paris

[update below]

The NYT had a salutary article the other day on a subject practically no one knows a thing about—except for the relatively small number of those directly concerned—, which is the plight of professors who teach in American study abroad centers in Paris—of their precarious conditions of employment, lack of benefits, and low salaries (and which one would presume is the case with American study abroad centers elsewhere as well). The increasing use of expendable, low paid, no benefit adjuncts in American universities is a well-known scandal—and that the article mentions—but is generalized in the study abroad centers of those same universities—and with lower pay to boot—, even though welfare states like France are supposed to offer working people a higher level of job protection and benefits. Not surprisingly, most of the professors interviewed for the NYT article did not wish to be identified by name, out of fear of losing their jobs. An administrator at one of the larger Paris programs declined to comment for the article. Of course he declined. What was he supposed to say? The responses of those who did comment on the record recounted a certain amount of bulldust. Two of the offending institutions mentioned in the article I know personally (their administrators and administrating faculty—almost all Americans—situate themselves on the political left almost to a man or a woman but when it comes to their actions as administrators and the values that guide them in their relationships with those whom they have the authority to hire and fire, they would be right at home on Wall Street or in any corporate boardroom). And then there are some particularly egregious offenders—real bad apples—the article didn’t mention. The situation is not all somber, it should be said, as there are study abroad programs that do indeed show commitment to their teaching staff (and their loyalty is duly reciprocated), but, malheureusement, these are in the minority.

UPDATE: AJE has a relevant article (April 11) on “Academia’s indentured servants.”

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Good fortune

decompte securite sociale

Last week my blogging consœur Victoria Ferauge—a fellow longtime American resident of France—published a post on her fine blog of an experience she recently had with the emergency room of a French hospital, and in which she made some comparisons between the French and American health care systems. As it happens, I also had an experience with the ER recently, my first ever in France (and only the second in my life, the last in the mid 1980s). Exactly three weeks ago, during the season’s first major snowfall in Paris, I was walking home in the early evening carrying groceries, slipped on the very slippery sidewalk, and fell, and with my foot twisting around in the process. I was in great pain, it was dark, and there was no one around. Fortunately a couple of good Samaritans did see me and came to help. My apartment building was within sight and my wife was fortunately home, so she came with a neighbor to meet me. As I couldn’t walk—I had badly messed up my ankle—, the snow was falling heavily, and I clearly needed to get to a hospital, she called the SAMU. Within fifteen minutes or so an ambulance van of the sapeurs-pompiers (fire brigade) arrived and took me to the ER of a nearby hospital. While in the van a fireman asked for an ID card so he could fill out a form. At the ER the firemen waited with me until a member of the hospital staff came to take charge. They were nice, helpful, and, not surprisingly, professional.

I thought I’d be in the ER for several hours but was tended to fairly quickly, even though the place was full. The X-ray of the ankle showed a fracture, so it had to be put in a cast. The doctor (from the Congo-Kinshasa; hospitals in France would have significant personnel shortages were it not for immigrant staff) wrote prescriptions for paracetamol (which is sold over the counter but if one has a prescription it’s covered by insurance), five weeks worth of anticoagulant injections to be administered daily, and crutches (cannes anglaises). He also gave me the number of a private clinic around the corner from my place and told me to schedule an appointment with an orthopedic specialist there ASAP. I was then told I could go home. There was no discharge process and no one asked for insurance information. The fireman no doubt gave the hospital a copy of the form that had been filled out in the van, but all that contained was my name, address, and DoB. My wife, who doesn’t drive, was fortunately able to get friends who live nearby to traverse the snow-covered streets and and pick me up. I was in and out of the hospital in two-and-a-half hours.

As the temperature remained below freezing for several days I couldn’t venture outside on the icy sidewalks, so the appointment with the orthopedist at the clinic didn’t happen until eight days after the accident. He said more X-rays would have to be taken to determine the seriousness of the injury. The new X-rays indeed showed the injury to be worse than that what the original had indicated, thus necessitating an urgent surgical intervention. So the operation took place and I spent two not particularly pleasant nights in the clinic (it was only the second overnight hospital stay of my life, the previous one 38½ years ago, following an operation on the very same ankle, injured while playing basketball). I was discharged a week ago today and with a new cast on. As this was a private clinic there was paperwork and for which my Carte Vitale and carte de mutuelle were needed. Had I not had these—i.e. if I weren’t covered by the Sécu (which everyone legally living in France is) and didn’t have a mutuelle (which 90+% of the population does)—, I would have received a sizable bill from the clinic. But I won’t be receiving any such bill. I did have to write checks to the orthopedist and anesthesiologist for a total of €180 but some or most of this will be reimbursed by the Sécu and mutuelle after I submit the feuille de soins (my doctors are in private practice—though are conventionné, i.e. registered with the Sécu—and basically set their own fees). As for the prescriptions, the only one so far for which money has had to be forked over was the crutches (€29). The registered nurse who comes daily to administer the anticoagulant shots and take twice-weekly blood tests—a team of three infirmières à domicile, who work out of a neighborhood paramedical clinic that does house calls—is also conventionné, though I’ll have a write a check of around €100 for the service when the process is finished (though that should be mostly or entirely reimbursed by my mutuelle).

So now I find myself at home and with a cast on my lower right leg for another five weeks to go, and with instructions from the doctor not to put any pressure on the leg (i.e. absolutely not to walk on the cast, even lightly). Which, in effect, means that I cannot go outside until I see the doctor again in mid-March. I suppose I could try but I doubt I’d get very far walking on two crutches outside (getting down the four flights of stairs in my building would be tough enough and my wife wouldn’t allow it anyway). I have a prescription to rent a wheelchair—which can be done from selected pharmacies—in case I really need to go out, but haven’t yet done so. So I get around the apartment on the crutches but that’s it. In terms of work, I have an arrêt de travail—which would enable me to receive 100% sick pay—but as I teach university-level courses I didn’t want to invoke it. So I have arranged to teach my classes via Skype, which is working okay so far. It’s not perfect and there are occasional technical glitches but it’s the only solution I have. Thank God for technology.

Being housebound, semi-crippled, and unable to do much of anything apart from sit at my computer, read, or watch TV—I can manage in the kitchen but can’t do any real cooking, and can’t carry anything that won’t go in a backpack—is a bummer but I’m not feeling sorry for myself. Far worse things have happened to many people in the course of human history, including friends of mine and close family members. And it’s only for a few weeks. I think about the good fortune I have had in this happening to me close to home and as a citizen of a rich country with national health insurance. I’ve been thinking about such an injury happening to, e.g., a poor person in a poor country, to a Syrian refugee in a freezing camp in Jordan, or to someone in America without health insurance (and even with insurance, of the deductibles and other fees into the four figures, maybe even more; an American friend here joked that the ambulance in the US would have probably asked for my credit card rather than ID). But, above all, I think of the good fortune I have in having my wife and daughter (age 19). I don’t know what I would do without my family right now. My condition imposes burdens on them but they’re responding with good cheer. I would really be up the creek if I lived alone and didn’t have family nearby. I would dread the prospect of living alone at my age whatever the case, but a debilitating injury or medical condition adds an additional dimension to such a prospect. So, yes, I think my fortune is pretty good.

On comparing the French and American health care systems, my mother (age 82) wrote an account of an experience she had some four years ago when she came to visit me, and that was published as a guest post on the blog of a health policy specialist at Duke University.

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[update below] [2nd update below]

There have been numerous tributes to him over the past two days. As he was still going strong intellectually at age 95, one can say that he led a full life—as for someone like Eric Hobsbawm, if one can read, write and discuss ideas, one is living fully. He was one of my references during my college-graduate school years and, like just about every political science-history inclined major of my generation, I read several of his books, including his famous trilogy of the long 19th century (1789-1914). And I saw him speak once, back in ’77 or ’78, at the Karl Marx Library in London (or maybe it was at one of the other lefty meeting places in town; can’t remember precisely). More recently I read his memoir, Interesting Times, along with the other members of my reading group, which we greatly enjoyed. One of his more noteworthy books that I have not read, though, is his history of the 20th century, The Age of Extremes. TNR has posted Eugene Genovese’s review essay of the book from 1995 (as it happens, Genovese died on September 26th). The essay is particularly interesting, as Genovese, like Hobsbawm, was a Marxist but, very much unlike Hobsbawm, became a conservative. I also dug up this review essay on the book—which is rather more critical—by Brad DeLong.

UPDATE: Age of Extremes and Interesting Times were reviewed by Tony Judt in the New York Review of Books here and here. Interesting Times was reviewed by Perry Anderson in the London Review of Books here and here.

2nd UPDATE: Julia Hobsbawm has a lengthy article in the FT (April 19, 2013) on “Remembering Dad.” The concluding paragraphs

Despite being a secular Jew all of his life, he had requested that his friend the American academic Ira Katznelson from Columbia University recite Kaddish at his funeral. His mother, he told me, “always said to me: never deny you are Jewish”. So at the very end when Ira, fresh off the red-eye from Manhattan, read the most important prayer of the Jews, I knew that my Dad – unobservant of the Jewish faith in any way during his life – was keeping true to her wish and her memory now, possibly when it mattered most.

Our final goodbye as a family at Highgate Cemetery was marked mainly in silence. It was cold, but autumn was still flaming away in the trees in Waterlow Park next door. Earlier, as I was buying a small bunch of flowers to lay on the grave, I had an overwhelming sentimental urge to give my father one last thing to read: it seemed impossible that he would never breathe in ideas again. I bought the London Review of Books, which he had regularly contributed to in life and which featured, as it happened, his friend Karl Miller’s obituary of him. We laid the copy, fresh and folded, on top, and then the gravedigger finished his work.

 

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Capital vs. talent

Interesting op-ed in today’s NY Times on the NFL referees’ strike as a metaphor for the battle in American business. The author, Roger L. Martin, argues that the NFL team owners fought the referee union so hard not because the latter’s demands were costly—which they weren’t—but

Because the league was fighting a bigger fight, one that is representative of a war beneath the surface of the modern economy — the war between capital and talent.

Martin’s Marxist-ish analysis is refreshing in this age of neoliberal hegemony, particularly as he is not some tenured radical prof at U.Mass-Amherst or UC-Santa Cruz but the dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Conservatives will likely retort that he’s Canadian so whaddaya expect? Martin’s recent book, Fixing the Game: Bubbles, Crashes, and What Capitalism Can Learn from the NFL, looks most interesting. It’s published by Harvard Business Press Books. The publishing arm of Mitt Romney’s alma mater. I would doubt he’s read it.

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Gore Vidal

[update below]

I hadn’t planned to write a thing about Gore Vidal’s death, as I never read any of his books or followed him in any way. He didn’t interest me. And whenever I did read something by or about him, the subject was usually his flaky political views, and specifically his predilection for conspiracy theories—e.g. 9/11 “trutherism” and FDR willingly letting the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor—, which will definitively get someone labeled a crackpot in my book. And on the personal level, the man really did seem to be—pardon the expression—an asshole. But I’ve come across this piece in Slate by David Greenberg, a historian at Rutgers, that is worth posting. Greenberg argues that Vidal should not be eulogized, as “he was a racist and an elitist, forever mourning the decline of his era of aristocratic privilege.” Ouch! I’ll post anything else of interest I come across on him.

UPDATE: In characterizing Vidal as an “asshole” I should give an example of this. Here’s one, from an interview with him in The Atlantic in October 2009

In September, director Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland for leaving the U.S. in 1978 before being sentenced to prison for raping a 13-year-old girl at Jack Nicholson’s house in Hollywood. During the time of the original incident, you were working in the industry, and you and Polanski had a common friend in theater critic and producer Kenneth Tynan. So what’s your take on Polanski, this many years later?

I really don’t give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?

I rest my case.

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[update below] [2nd update below]

I just learned that Alexander Cockburn died. Just seven months after his onetime confrère and fellow US-based British pundit-polemicist Christopher Hitchens. As I wrote a sort of tribute to Hitchens back then, I suppose I should write one for Cockburn too. I was a fan of Cockburn back in my gauchiste days and followed his writings closely, from 1979—when I first started to read him in The Village Voice—to 1984 or ’85, when I ceased to be a fan. I then came to despise him and for all sorts of political reasons, most notably for his defense of the Soviet Union and, in the 1990s, of the Serbs during the wars in the former Yugoslavia (for this, I wanted to punch him in the face). Unlike with Hitchens I didn’t see Cockburn’s writings too often over the past decade, as these mainly appeared on his flaky, ultra-gauchiste CounterPunch website, of which I am definitely not an habitué, though have seen it every now and then over the years, mainly when a gauchiste friend or two hurls a link from it at me. But Cockburn, like Hitchens, remained a great writer and despite his politics—when it comes to polemicizing with style, Brits are superior to Americans—, and took sensible positions on a few issues. And to his credit, I suppose, he rubbished the 9/11 conspiracy theories, which are no doubt adhered to by a sizeable number of his readers (not to mention CounterPunch contributors). (But then, anyone who gives the slightest credence to 9/11 trutherism seriously needs to have his or her head examined). The last piece I read by Cockburn was his farewell tribute to his frère ennemi Hitchens, which I thought was amusing and spot on. Too bad Hitchens isn’t around to write a tribute in kind to Cockburn.

UPDATE: A New York friend, who is well-known in progressive intellectual circles there, has written the following to me:  “I stopped reading AC a long time ago. It was disgraceful that Counterpunch began publishing the likes of Israel Shamir, whose forthcoming piece apparently ‘reveals’ that the Dreyfus Affair had nothing to do with anti-Semitism.” (July 22)

2nd UPDATE: Ronald Radosh, who used to be a leftist—but hasn’t been for a long time now—, has an anti-tribute to Cockburn, whom he didn’t like too much… (July 24)

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If one is interested in aviation and world travel, Patrick Smith’s blog, Ask the Pilot, at Salon.com is a must. Patrick is a professional pilot—currently for cargo—, travels the world, and blogs about it. About planes and the world. His blog is great. I’ve been following it for years. His latest post is from Bombay, a.k.a. Mumbai, and some of his observations and experiences are precisely those I had on my last visit to that impossible hellhole of a city over twenty years ago, notably on the several hundred square mile sewage dump in the Arabian Sea one overflies on the landing approach to the airport—a sight that has to be seen to be believed—and the city’s nightmarish traffic. He apparently didn’t take the suburban train from Victoria station to the city’s northern districts, where one passes through the most appalling shantytowns one will see anywhere on this planet. I went into the heart of the poorest quarters of Mexico City and Cairo in the mid 1980s, which were positively high class compared to those in Bombay. My father lived in Bombay during his high school and undergraduate university years. His memories of the city were fond. Likewise for Salman Rushdie. Bombay must have been a fine, even exhilarating, city back then. Le bon vieux temps.

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